Sunday, 19 March 2017

Richard Strongbow de Clare - and family

Chepstow Castle (Striguil)
   The de Clare family was rich, powerful and extremely prominent in the Welsh Marches of Medieval times and one of the most interesting of them was Richard Strongbow. Confusingly (and I sometimes feel it was done deliberately in order to muddle me!) they called alternate eldest sons Richard or Gilbert.
   The Richard who interests us at this moment was nicknamed Strongbow - but so was his father! Despite the tendency at this period to accord a cognomen that commented on some physical peculiarity (Rufus, Wryneck or Curthose - short arse  - springs to mind) neither of these men seems to have had oddly shaped legs.
The nickname was probably a mistranscription in a Latin entry in the Domesday Exchequer annals of the early 14th century which appended the word "Stranghose" to his given name. The chronicler thought this meant "foreign leggings" but it probably referred to Striguil (Chepstow) which could also be spelled Strangboge, Stranboue or Stranbohe. Clear? No, neither am I, but this nickname stuck from then on.

  He was born in 1130 in Tonbridge, Kent, and died on 20th April 1176, aged 45/6, in Dublin, having been master of Chepstow, planner of Usk town and Governor of Ireland. Gilbert I (they are often given Roman numerals because of the problem we have noted) and his brother Roger had been part of the hunting party when William Rufus was killed - or murdered - and were brothers-in-law of the man who did the shooting, Walter Tirel. Whether or not they were part of a plot, they were rewarded by Henry I (who claimed the throne in indecent haste) with extensive grants of lands throughout England and Wales. Male members of the family made judicious marriages until they were amongst the most powerful magnates of the kingdom.
   Our Richard succeeded to the lordship of Striguil, aged only 18, and supported King Stephen against Matilda for the last 5 years of his reign. The next Henry, Matilda's son, his new liege-lord, regarded him with suspicion and failed to confirm him in the important title of Earl of Pembroke. At that time, he was, as Orpen said "a man who, having been brought up to greatness, had fallen on evil days and who therefore was all the more ready to endeavour to repair his fortunes by a bold adventure in another country." This was the Norman occupation of Ireland.

  In August 1166, Dermot Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, was banished and later landed in Bristol with his followers to seek support from Henry II to recover his position.The King, who had designs on Ireland, gave him letters patent but Richard Strongbow was alone in offering military support - in return for promises to marry Dermot's daughter, Eva, and inherit Leinster after his death. (I will not trouble our heads with the variant spellings of all these names!) However, he did not go immediately and then Henry forbade the mission. Yet, since Strongbow was on the point of departure, he set off despite this prohibition and Henry seized Striguil. Richard landed in Waterford with 200 knights and 1000 light troops, some recruited in Gwent. They took Waterford and Dublin but Henry saw his own ambitions threatened by this success and did a deal with Richard who ceded some gains but kept Leinster. By August 1173, Henry trusted him enough to make him Governor of Ireland. At about this time the stone keep of Usk castle was built and the charter for its Priory was granted.

Usk Castle

   In 1189 his daughter, Isabella, married one of the most powerful and renowned men of the age, William, Earl Marshall of England, who strengthened both Striguil and Usk castles adding to the latter the dominating curtain walls. Strongbow's tomb is not local to Gwent despite such claims. He was described by Geraldus Cambrensis: "His complexion was somewhat ruddy and his skin freckled; he had grey eyes, feminine features, a weak voice and short neck. For the rest, he was tall in stature and a man of great generosity and of a courteous nature."
    He was also an ancestor of the American Bush political family.

To read more about his influence in Monmouthshire you can click on Chepstow Castle, Usk Castle or the planting of Usk Town. There is also a post about the illustrious William Marshal.

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